Christmas, 2014. It’s been thirty years, now, since our Wendy-baby was born, since our Wendy-baby died.
There was little tangible proof attaching her memory to this life, but in our hearts she’d become a world of existence.
Her birth, a sunrise beyond description.
Followed by a day, containing all a soul requires to qualify as having been born.
And finally a sunset, Mommy and Daddy gazing, not daring to avert our eyes even for a moment, for fear we would miss the setting of her life as she disappeared beneath the horizon of the living, tranquil, it seemed, until her small self had stilled. Only then could we look away, look at each other, and wonder.
Day is done. Gone the sun. Gone our daughter.
I am grateful, even today, to an unnamed mother who told my friend, the one who helped me dress our Wendy-baby for her funeral, that I should save a lock of her hair.
We didn’t tell the funeral home attendant what we were doing. We didn’t know if it might be wrong, and we didn’t want to be told if it was.
So before she was sealed in the small, white coffin, and before the coffin was forever sealed beneath the ground as ‘ashes to ashes, dust to dust’ was pronounced, we stole from her small, newborn, now-still head, a lock of hair.
Once Wendy had been buried, a need to hold her to my breast began to swell, as my milk continued to form, my breasts to ache—to hold her in my arms, to feast my eyes on this child, hoped for, anticipated, dreamed of, for nine wonderful months, but gone before we barely had a chance to make a memory.
That lock of hair was the seed that would begin to fill my need.
Now, thirty years later, I can go to my bookshelf and find, amongst the dusty photo albums, one named, “Wendy’s Book”.
What could there be from a life just thirty-seven hours long that would fill an entire album?
Oh, so much. So much.
First, we find her hospital bracelet, certifying that yes, our Wendy was born, on a recorded date, given a name, and with a doctor in attendance.
Then we see photos of a pregnant mom-to-be, a toddler sister, a beaming father, and the house where she would have lived.
Now we find card after card of congratulations, expressing the joy we too felt at our baby girl’s birth, all popped into the mail before the rest of the drama unfolded.
Next, taped to the page, is her birth certificate, the one that shocked me when it came in the mail. I had ordered the big one, not the wallet-size. Nothing small or insignificant for our little girl! When the document arrived I took it from its envelope, expecting this to be the legal statement proclaiming her life. Instead, there, stamped in large red letters at an angle so it wouldn’t be missed, was the word, DECEASED.
I hadn’t expected that.
But back to Wendy’s Book.
Now you will see the lock of hair, taped to the page, still holding a bit of its curl. Perhaps I could have done something more artistic. No. Her hair is enough. She was alive. She had hair. In life, she had hair.
I breathe deeply, and move on.
Here is a photo, one, just one, taken after the tape and tubes and entanglements were removed from her small self. Swaddled in her pink hospital blanket, she is held in her blue-gowned mother’s arms. Here is the photo I would show people later, to say, “See? This is our Wendy-baby.” Most didn’t realize, and I didn’t offer the fact that the child in the photo was, indeed, dead.
Now we see the next document, the one that, to tell the whole story, had to be included—Wendy’s Certificate of Death.
No need to linger there. We can turn the page quickly, because yes, there is more. Much more.
Over the days and weeks following April 27, 1985 more cards arrived. Condolences, sympathy, drawings by children honouring their cousin whom they would never meet. Stories were written in some of the cards attesting to the unmentioned truth that they, too, had had a baby who died.
I wasn’t prepared for how many such stories there were.
The offerings of other mothers, and sometimes of fathers, remembering their lost little one, re-experiencing their grief in honour of our Wendy, and her own full life; begun, fulfilled, and completed in the blink of an eye.
Each of these memories rounds out her story. This is Wendy’s Book.
2 Samuel 12:22-23
22 He answered, “While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept.
I thought, ‘Who knows? The Lord may be gracious to me and let the child live.’
23 But now that he is dead, why should I go on fasting?
Can I bring him back again?
I will go to him, but he will not return to me.”
When the Bough Breaks will be available in hard-copy by December 2016.